Several state agencies are teaming up to create a new pilot program they hope will drastically lower youth crime in South Carolina.
The Community Safety Initiative is a joint project of the state Commerce Department, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the State Law Enforcement Division. The pilot project will start in the towns of Laurens and Walterboro.
In Walterboro, city leaders have received a $500,000 grant to focus on keeping teens involved in their communities and out of gangs. The funding tries to help “latchkey” teens, who don’t have a parent at home during the afternoon. Juvenile Justice Director Bill Byars says the mentoring programs will really help.
We have recognized from the past that there’s a need for kids to be safe and have places that they can go and not be confronted by gangs or by temptations.
Byars said the programs work with community centers, boys and girls clubs, and even churches to provide a safe enviornment for teens to spend their afternoon.
Another part of the grant provides training for teens to give them the skills and confidence they need to get jobs. Byars says giving teens a chance to earn money keeps them out of crime.
That makes them less susceptible to some gang coming up saying, “Hey, be here on the street corner holding this and we’ll pay you.” It’s just all these positive things, because these are South Carolina’s children. These are not hardened criminals.
Byars says although the program is still in its test stage, he knows it will be successful, because he’s seen similar ideas work before.
Byars said the agencies want to target smaller, rural towns, as the resources there are much more limited than in larger cities such as Columbia or Charleston.
Walterboro mayor Bill Young said his city was selected because state officials think it has potential for economic development.
They want us to do projects that have an immediate impact on the neighborhoods and that people in the neighborhoods can look at and say, “Yeah, they came in and they did this and we can see the progress that’s being made.”
Other parts of the grant include funds to improve poorer neighborhoods by demolishing vacant buildings and street-lighting projects and sidewalks that make streets safer for pedestrians.
Walterboro has not yet specifically determined how it will spend the money. Young said his office will work with the town manager, city council, and state officials to decide how to best use the grant.
Byars hopes the investment will save money in the long run, especially if his department does not need to jail as many juvenile offenders.
We used to concentrate on the back end of juvenile delinquency. That’s extremely expensive. What we can do on the front end is extremely inexpensive. It just works better.
The Community Safety Initiative is funded by $1 million in federal grants.